A Beautiful View
by Daniel MacIvor
directed by Daniel MacIvor
produced by Studio 2ndStage
reviewed by Tim Treanor
A Beautiful View is minor MacIvor, a light saunter through the fields fronting the forest of the human psyche. Lane (Jennifer Mendenhall) and Max (Kathleen Coons) meet, lie to each other, fall in love, have sex. Max takes off (she’s not bisexual, after all – not well organized enough) but they eventually meet again, and become good friends. Lane gets married; it doesn’t work out. Max has a relationship with a dentist; it doesn’t work out. They get jobs, lose jobs, move. They form a ukulele band. At some point they become lovers again. There is a betrayal, and after that, recriminations. Mothers die. That’s it, pretty much, except for an Ursus ex machina at the end.
These numerous incidents don’t carry much dramatic tension. We learn about them mostly through narrative between the two characters, or from asides addressed to the audience. In fact, it is tempting to call this a play about nothing, especially given Lane’s slogan, “nothing is enough.” (It’s never clear whether this is a Zen embrace of oblivion, or a plain-language paraphrase of Wilde’s famous aphorism, “nothing succeeds like excess.”) Or, perhaps, it would be better to call it a play about barely anything. But that would be the easy way out, and, really, wrong.
The events of Lane’s and Max’s lives, random though they are, are sufficient to satisfy these two amiable characters, and they should be enough for us, too. Like my life, and yours (unless you are Barack Obama, John McCain, or Jim Zorn), their lives are a series of unexpected accidents, to which no meaning can be attached. They do their best to deal with them anyway, with as much dignity and good humor as they can muster. Sometimes they succeed; sometimes not.
MacIvor is interested in the big picture; in people’s whole lives and the consequences of those lives Sometimes, as in Never Swim Alone, his pursuit of those questions is as perfectly constructed as an egg. Here, by a substantial margin, it is more diffuse.
The play has its pleasures. One is the way in which the two veteran actors handle the material. Mendenhall, who can dominate a stage, is wry and sly as Lane, a woman prone to the gently ironic. In a scene in which Lane screams at Max, Mendenhall manages, somehow, to show Lane turning much of the emotional violence in upon herself, so it appears more painful to Lane than it ever could be for Max. And Coons, an actor I wish I could see more often, plays Max with perfect pitch as someone whose own life is a mystery to her. And MacIvor the Director directs MacIvor the Playwright with great generosity of spirit; some of the best moments are when the characters, silent, look at us.
A Beautiful View will never be confused with, say, A Streetcar Named Desire. There are no expansive personalities, big issues or explosive confrontations. But maybe we have enough of those already. After a day of watching your stock portfolio jitterbug across the Dow, the serenity of A Beautiful View might be just the ticket. It’ll be a little more expensive than a couple of drinks at the Hay-Adams, but it’ll probably be healthier.
Running Time: 1:15 (no intermissions)
When: Wednesdays through Sundays until December 2. Sundays are at 7.30 p.m.; all other shows at 8.30.
Where: Studio 2ndStage, 1501 14th Street NW, Washington
Tickets: $39. Call 202.332.3300 or go to the website.
[Editor’s note: For MacIvorites out there, Studio is holding a free reading of Daniel MacIvor’s new play Confession Sat & Sun, Oct 18 & 19 at 4 pm. For reservations, call 202 332 3300.